Addressing Scale and Sustainability in Early Education in India

Delivering quality education to every child in India is a huge challenge. The size and scale itself are daunting – about 1.5 million schools, 8.5 million teachers and nearly 250 million children. In 2001, the Indian government took a bold step and created the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and this, over the years, built the infrastructure needed to house and teach 250 million children. By all accounts, it was a bold and effective move – prior to SSA less than 60% of the children were in school – today more than 95% are in school. While getting schools in place was done what was missing was quality schooling. Successive surveys since 2005, such as the Annual State of Education Report (ASER), show that learning outcomes of children are far from satisfactory – in fact, the results are quite depressing and what is further disconcerting is that despite knowing the state of education, there is nothing in surveys of latter years to show that the needle has moved significantly in the right direction.

Clearly, it is time for another bold SSA-creation-type moment. We need people and organizations that can change the current system of thinking and acting; we need them to pull all stakeholders together, strengthen ideas, make them more viable and scalable, and thus multiply impact. A survey of the landscape will quickly reveal that we are a country of remarkable pilot studies – there are several dozen, if not hundreds, organizations that are hugely talented and innovative – but somehow, there are no visible examples of organizations that have done work at scale and sustainably.

Which of course means that we need to understand clearly what scale and sustainability mean. The government school system is the one that gives us scale – if we have to make a difference in society then we have to learn how to work with the government which, in itself, is no mean feat. While it may seem painfully slow there is a process inside government and once this process is followed and your solution accepted then the impact can be made across very large numbers of learners. We are talking, in a mid-sized state like Karnataka, of nearly 45,000 schools and 10+ million children – that is scale.



I believe that scale without sustainability becomes meaningless. And sustainability goes way beyond financial sustainability – it means that your solution is accepted by and delivered effectively through the state system of teachers and educators. And this means, one should think in terms of exit strategies.

So how does one go about making scale and sustainability happen? The assumption is that your pedagogy and tools are innovative and very good. At Akshara Foundation, we have over the past dozen years, evolved a model for the delivery of primary school math teaching/learning through the government school system and we now are in a position to articulate what we believe is a workable model. Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) looks at multiple stakeholders and tries to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” for each of the stakeholders.

First, the teachers. Before we started out, we tried to understand why teachers had trouble in delivering math instruction and found out that while there were textbooks, they had no tools to transact the textbook. In other words, teachers were asking for an effective kit that would help them teach math. And they are right! Math should always be taught using a constructivist approach using what is called the CRA method – from Concrete to Representational to Abstract. Our observations prior to GKA told us that teachers were relying on taking the child straight to the Abstract mode which mean that rote-learning came into play and that concept understanding and clarity were missing. Needless to say, Akshara created an innovative, scientifically designed toolkit which now is part of every government school in Karnataka and Odisha. The kit was supplemented by teacher training both in the face-to-face mode and now via 25 hours of digital AV modules that covers the entire curriculum. And all this was created so that the burden on the teacher was eliminated, and the teachers were able to appreciate that it (GKA) was good for them as well. It is therefore not surprising that every math period every day in these schools is a GKA period.



The GKA 1.0 Kit (for grades 1-5) was designed by Akshara’s resource team with inputs from the field. Recently, the Karnataka Education Department invited Akshara to develop GKA 2.0 kit (grades 6-8) and this has been completed – the difference here being that the kit was developed by government schoolteachers who worked along with Akshara’s resource people through a series of workshops spanning nearly four months. Hidden in this development is a message of sustainability – when a key stakeholder “owns” the solution the chances of it working well across the system get multiplied. See https://youtu.be/eRv9wj4B_z8

Every state has a large cadre of resource support personnel in the form of Cluster Resource Persons (CRPs or CRCCs); Block Education Officers (BEOs) and Block Resource Persons (BRPs), etc. They are expected to support the schools academically and for administratively as well. Part of their efforts include trying to understand how children are performing and whether programmes implemented through the state are working. To help them with this task with respect to GKA, we created a simple process of data collection with FOUR questions only. Each one of those questions was designed such that, based on the survey results, we (stakeholders) need to take action. As an example, we ask the question – were the GKA kits used during the math class? – and if we know that a significant portion of teachers do not use the kits then we need to understand why and remedy the situation. The Resource Support personnel observe and send this data to Akshara which then collates and shares results in a very short time (in fact, almost real-time). This ownership by the state resources also ensures long-term sustainability.

Community engagement is a big part of the GKA model. It is often said that it takes a village to educate a child. At Akshara we took this to heart. A huge cadre of Education Volunteers at the Gram Panchayat (GP) level were identified and nurtured and they manage multiple community-led events such as a GP-level Math contest (see https://youtu.be/ySyOsbWJGOI ). They also manage other tasks but all of them is done in a very focussed manner and without it being a burden on them. Typically, an Education Volunteer invests about 3-4 hours every month to support the school whose alumni they usually are. What is noteworthy here is that the Education Volunteers work without any compensation – as of this writing (January 2023) there are more than 50,000 such volunteers in Karnataka alone.

The GP level contest is a well-designed property – at Akshara we like to say that it is a contest for children AND a (con)test for all other stakeholders. Every stakeholder gets valuable inputs – teachers get to know the weakest areas of their wards’ performance, parents and community members get to see how their wards are faring, elected officials like Gram Panchayat members and School Development & Monitoring Committee (SDMC) Members all get to see how the children of their geography are performing. All of this is done in a highly transparent manner and results are shared within three hours with all. This contest has been a huge success – attendance is usually 92+% and this is financially sponsored by the local communities – another way of ensuring long-term sustainability.



What is the role of government in all this? Without significant government buy-in, none of this would have been possible – GKA would remain another interesting pilot. But the states where Akshara has scaled – Karnataka and Odisha – both have recognized the importance of this model and have invested in the procurement of kits in each school (through their formal tendering processes) and for teacher training costs, etc. This is a sign of ownership and commitment to the model.

Of course, over the years, Akshara has stayed current and leveraged technology in multiple ways. We invested in an Android app called Building Blocks that is available in bundled form on Google PlayStore and in an unbundled form on the Ministry of Education’s Diksha Platform. This app is a collection of interactive games and is linked to the curriculum and it was but natural for us to link textbooks to these games using QR codes at the end of chapters in the textbooks – something called energized textbooks. And more innovative uses of technology is in the works.



True scale and sustainability can only be achieved when the community starts demanding quality education and starts participating in its delivery. Only then will the supply-side stakeholders start addressing this demand. At Akshara we believe that for effective transformative change to happen we need a holistic model that makes sure that children, teachers, educators, community members, elected representatives, NGOs, and the government all see value. And all the bits have to play together concurrently for impact. This transformation will not happen in 2-3 years – something pilots tend to do to show that they work. Since the entire system has to be “educated” we reckon this would require a commitment for a decade or more so that we are able to infuse the system with the ability to “learn, unlearn and relearn”. We constantly need to monitor the progress of every single element in the model and not just learning outcomes of children because without all of that playing together you will not hear or see the outcomes.

Ashok Kamath
Chairman & Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation

Unrelenting Commitment towards Children’s Learning – A Volunteer Story

Akshara Foundation’s work has attracted many people who are strongly passionate about education, and who want to make a similar difference in their hometowns. One such person is Mahesh H, a team leader from G. Hosalli village in Gubbi taluk, Tumkur district, close to the Andhra Pradesh border.



Already a community figure, Mahesh had first heard of Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolan (GKA) kit, and felt it to be very effective as a teaching method. He was very impressed upon reading more about the foundation’s work, and resolved to join it in some capacity. He soon achieved his aim, and set to work with gusto. He would go around distributing the GKA maths kit in schools, and have teachers learn how it worked so that they could use it to teach their students effectively.



He also ramped up Akshara training for teachers in the surrounding villages, believing the foundation’s method of pedagogy to be the best option. Not content in just managing things remotely, Mahesh made it a point to drop in and even take part in training the teachers for at least one session a few hours each week. He would also try to instruct children in schools whenever he could.

As a result, the recruitment of volunteers increased, and Akshara’s reputation grew among the locals.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Mahesh was concerned about the learning loss that children faced during the pandemic and wanted to maximise the amount students could learn in those trying times. He felt the Building Blocks app to be a very effective method to catch up, and worked hard to spread awareness of it. He used a local cable broadcasting network to beam awareness programmes and advertisements about the app into homes in nearby villages.



When the lockdown guidelines were relaxed, he motivated volunteers to personally go to homes and instruct parents and children on what to do to use the app and get the best effects. These incidents show his unrelenting commitment to children’s education.

Mahesh’s determination and strong will makes him a powerful force for education in rural Tumkur. It is the inclusion of such people into our army of Education Volunteers and Team Leads, and their enthusiasm to work that allows our programmes to truly become sustainable movements.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child

Akshara has always believed in the power of strong engagement with the community way before it became fashionable and enshrined in the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP2020). And it was this power that we put to test in the 22-week period between May 1, 2021 and September 18, 2021.

Akshara’s Education Volunteers and Gram Panchayat (GP) Team Leaders have been our source of strength across the rural landscape. In Karnataka, we have nearly 18,000 of them across 24 districts.

When we sensed there was reluctance amongst the rural populations to take the Covid-19 vaccine, we put our small army to work in a focused manner – their charter was (a) first to get vaccinated themselves; (b) convince and facilitate the vaccination of their neighbours with the help of the local state administration.

And this group worked wonders. In the 22-week period they managed to facilitate the vaccination of 5.12 million people. Here is a table that shows what they have done.

We are now asking ourselves the question – if this group of community volunteers can do so much in such a short time, we think they can be of immense value in ensuring that our children get quality education especially at the foundational stages.

Our thanks to this army and we are sure you, the reader, will also feel good about this life-saving performance.

We’ve been asked by many organisations and volunteers on how they can take this forward similarly, in areas where they work. We’ve created this 10-step guide in the hope that it helps them reach out to as many people as we have, and a step forward towards the entire country being vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus.

– Penned by Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation

The Role Model Priest / SDMC President

Here you will find a temple priest and SDMC President who is a role model for the youth of his village.

This is the story of Dayananda Swami who studied only till class 12 and now experiences a world of enjoyment in teaching children in his village. An active 43-year-old, he juggles many roles – a priest at the village temple, one of the main organisers of cultural events in this small, sleepy place, and President of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC).



Dayananda Swami has also long had another crucial task, self-assigned and diligently executed. Every day he is at the village’s government school to teach children Mathematics with Akshara’s Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) kit.

He got captivated by the teaching-learning materials in the kit at one of the SDMC meetings he chaired and started interacting with the teachers and Akshara’s Field Coordinators to learn more about it.

A galvaniser in the village, he encourages youth to help children learn Mathematics and banish their fear of the subject. On occasion, he takes up cudgels too, on behalf of education. He once fought to get a teacher back to school, who had been absent for over two years using political influence to stay truant.

A role model and an inspiration to village youth, he motivates them to teach children for free.

– By Ranganath, Akshara Foundation

A Teacher’s Dedication

This is the story of Almas Kousar, the Nali-Kali teacher for classes 1-3, who stresses on cleanliness. She also teaches students of classes 1-5 English at the government primary school in Doranalapalli village, Rashcharevu cluster, Bagepalli taluk.



Every morning, Almas had to confront the sight of students coming to school, unkempt and dirty, without a bath. She tried hard to convince them of the need for good grooming habits. But all her efforts were futile. Her students started giving excuses – no running water at home, no soap, and on it went.

Almas decided she would be the change she sought and bought soap and shampoo at her own expense and started bathing the kids. The parents asked their children to tell her not to get involved in cleaning rituals, to focus instead on teaching. Almas refused to budge. She asked the parents to come to school and discuss matters of hygiene with their kids. The parents said, “We’re not going to change. We won’t take the trouble of bathing our children before they come to school.”

Matters started getting out of hand, forcing Almas to call for a meeting with School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members and the community and have them convince the parents about the value of hygiene. When the community got involved, the parents realised the importance of their children practising proper self-care routines and coming to school wearing a clean uniform.

Nor was Almas neglecting education. Her dedication to all aspects of her students’ school life is exemplary. She has taught them to converse in English and students speak fluently. Her school wins prizes in almost any competition or event organised at the cluster level. The community too is keenly involved these days in its functioning.

– By Shanbhulinga, Akshara Foundation

A Story of a Tanda

This is the story of an education-oriented community.



In the districts of North Karnataka you can find a tribal community called the Lambanis (http://www.realbharat.org/lambani-the-afghani-lavana-merchants-tribe-of-india-467/). In Dharwad and Gadag districts, the places where they live are known as Tandas.

This is the story of one such Tanda in Adavi Soampura (Jalashankar Nagara) in Gadag Rural taluk in Gadag district. With only 100 houses, the village has a population of around 350. It has a government lower primary school with 93 students and 4 teachers.

The students performed quite well during my visit to this school when I gave them questions on basic arithmetic operations. That is rare in a classroom. Almost 95% of the students answered correctly.

Curious, I dug a little deeper to see what their parents’ background is. Almost 80% of the parents go to Goa for daily wage labour and most of the children live with their grandparents. It is interesting to note that the Lambanis have a language of their own and do take some time to understand Kannada. In spite of these hurdles, the kids have mastered the language as well as an abstract subject like Mathematics.

The credit for such incredible performance surely goes to the school’s teachers and the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members who take keen interest in the school’s progress and learning outcomes. When asked how they were using the teaching-learning materials (TLMs) in the Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) Mathematics kit, the teacher said that those who were lagging made good use of them.

The final result is that when they graduate to the 6th grade, they join Navodaya Vidyalaya or Morarji Desai Residential School, a chain of prestigious institutions meant for children from underprivileged backgrounds, a much sought-after badge of merit for government school kids, difficult to gain entry as the bar is high. These children make that possible with their dedication and the hard work of their teachers.

– By Maruti Mallapur, Akshara Foundation

Engaging the community to make schools accountable for delivering quality education

Via 

Posted On: 21 Nov 2017
Section: Notes from the Field
Topics: Education
Tags: schooling, Karnataka



K. Vaijayanti
Akshara Foundation
vaijayanti@akshara.org.in

While the dismal quality of primary education in India has received considerable attention at the state and national levels, rural communities still seem to associate school quality with parameters such as physical infrastructure. In this note, K. Vaijayanti describes an initiative in Karnataka that involves publicly-conducted mathematics tests for school children, to raise awareness regarding learning levels and to engage the community in holding schools accountable.

While India has been very successful in improving access to primary education, learning outcomes remain poor and need urgent attention. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)1, brought out every year since 2006, repeatedly highlights the dismal state of public schooling in the country. Some studies (Rosato 2013) argue that besides supply of resources, it is important to identify channels that allow for active participation of parents in particular and the community in general, in improving the quality of school education.

Participatory democracy in education While the supply side of the schooling system in India seems to be strengthening, it is the demand side that needs scaffolding. A sustainable way to improve the quality of school education is an effective decentralised management system. Accountability of the public system is best ensured by directly involving the beneficiaries. Therefore, parents of school-going children need to be involved at the school level in planning, decision-making, execution, monitoring and evaluation. It has to be a voluntary commitment that supplements vigil over public educational institutions by the Gram Panchayats2 (GPs), which needs to be enhanced.

The 73rd Amendment of the Indian Constitution, 1993, contains provisions for devolution of powers and responsibilities to GPs to prepare plans for economic development and social justice, and for implementing the 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution, including primary education. People’s Plan Campaign in Kerala, Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan, and the School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs) of Karnataka are some examples of participatory democracy in Indian education.

However, participatory democracy in education may be a challenge because competence hierarchies – as in ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ – dominate the sector. It is believed that quality education is understood only by those who are experts and that due to its intangible nature it is difficult to be judged by the masses. There is a need to connect the community with indicators of quality education through simple tools and techniques. A complementary strategy of deliberative democracy may help balance the power relations between the school and the community.

Gram Panchayat mathematics contests in Karnataka Bearing in mind ASER’s results for basic arithmetic competencies in Karnataka, Akshara Foundation, an educational NGO, developed a Mathematics programme called Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA) for students of grades 4 and 5 in government schools. The Government of Karnataka adopted GKA in 2015 in the backward Hyderabad-Karnataka region of the state. Community engagement has been an integral part of the programme.

In the year 2016, mathematics contests were conducted by Akshara’s field staff with the help of educated youth (called ‘education volunteers’) from the villages where the children competed. Written, grade-specific, competency-based mathematics tests were administered to children of 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. The tests were designed for 20 marks and the duration was one hour. Education volunteers evaluated the answer papers at the very spot where the test was held and on the same day, thereby ensuring transparency in the whole process. This was followed by a public event involving a prize distribution ceremony to which GP members, parents, SDMC members, donors, and the village community were invited. Top three scorers from each grade were felicitated with financial rewards.

The contests were a way to engage with primary stakeholders by generating awareness of school quality as indicated by learning outcomes. The assumption is that if parents become aware of their children’s numeracy levels, they may demand that the school system delivers better quality education. The experiment also aimed to assess whether such an initiative can be owned by the community so that wide participation is ensured. Contribution of resources in cash or kind by the local community was an indicator to measure collective concern at the GP level around quality education.

Akshara’s data show that 521 contests were held and 70,000 children took the test. On average, about 45% of children across the three grades were found to have acquired grade-appropriate mathematics competencies. Over 25,000 parents, 5,000 SDMC members, and 6,000 youth participated and 9,200 donors contributed Rs. 10 million approximately in cash and kind.

The power of information The information pertaining to learning status is a critical quality indicator to ascertain the effectiveness of schooling. Typically, the understanding of educational status of government school children in rural areas is centred on physical infrastructure, facilities, and the number of teaching staff. The community often tends to equate quality with functionality, as represented by these parameters. The mathematics contests lifted the veil of public perception and became a tool that enabled the community to understand the actual status of learning in schools.

While it is early to assess the impact of the contests, most of the participating GPs experienced an immediate effect. Instances were reported of groups of parents visiting the schools the next day to question the authorities. Elected representatives said that the results were an eye opener and the ‘all-is-well’ myth was destroyed. Preliminary evidence indicates that the initiative is gaining visibility in terms of GP members visiting schools, quality of Mathematics learning being discussed in GP meetings, circulars being sent by GP heads to parents on measures taken to improve school quality, and so on. Within a fortnight, the results were also shared with SDMCs, Taluk Panchayats (block level) and Zila Panchayats (district level) to facilitate discussions on the status of learning in government schools and take follow-up action.

Besides, this intervention was a step towards closing the gap between the ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ with regards to education, and strengthened the community and local agencies to push for corrective measures to make schools more accountable.

Concluding remarks Participatory community action is an urgent need of the hour. Efforts such as this can create public spaces for stakeholders to engage; erect a bridge of communication between the school and the community; and enable an environment for development. The contests worked as an instrument to raise awareness among the community regarding children’s learning status, and generate a common resolve to make schools accountable to functioning in a manner that ensures quality primary education. This is especially important in the absence of robust institutional arrangements for accountability.

While quality of education has drawn a great deal of attention from policymakers at the national and state levels, there is still a need to inform local stakeholders regarding the issue and to strengthen them to participate locally to find solutions. GP-level mathematics contests may be a mechanism to enhance the capability of decentralised institutions for local oversight and support.

Notes: ASER is the largest citizen-led survey in India that provides information on children’s school enrolment and basic learning levels across the country. A gram panchayat is the cornerstone of a local self-government organisation in India of the Panchayati Raj system at the village or small-town level and has a sarpanch as its elected head. In 2014, only 11.8% and 20.1% of students from grades 4 and 5 respectively, could solve division-level problems.

Further Reading ASER Centre (2016), ‘Status of Education Report (Rural) 2016’, Pratham. Avritzer, L (2002), Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. Baiocchi, G (2005), ‘Participation, activism, and politics: The Porto Alegre experiment and deliberative democratic theory’. Drèze, J, A Sen (2013), An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, Princeton University Press, Princeton. Govinda, R and R Diwan (2003), Community Participation and Empowerment in Primary Education, Sage Publication. Hadenius, A (2003), Decentralisation and Democratic Governance: Experiences from India, Bolivia and South Africa, Elanders Gotab, Stockholm. Heller, Patrick (2012), “Democracy, Participatory Politics and Development: Some Comparative Lessons from Brazil, India and South Africa”, Polity, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp. 643–665. Nylen, WR (2003), Participatory Democracy versus Elitist Democracy: Lessons from Brazil, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Johnson, C (2003), ‘Decentralisation in India: Poverty, Politics and Panchayati Raj’, Working Paper 199, Overseas Development Institute, London. Pillai, PP (2006), ‘Democratic Decentralization, Participatory Development and Civil Society: The Story of People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning in India’, World Society Focus Paper Series, World Society Foundation, Zurich. Rosato, L (2014), ‘School ‘Quality and Effectiveness’ and Parental Attitudes towards Education in Rural India and Insights from the Alice Project’, Working Paper. UNDEF (2013), ‘2013 State of Participatory Democracy Report’, United Nations Democracy Fund. Vaijayanti, K, MN Suma and A Mondal (2016), ‘The Impact of Akshara Ganitha: A Longitudinal Study 2012-13 to 2014-15’, Akshara Foundation. Available here. UNDP (2000), ‘Decentralisation in India: Challenges & Opportunities’, Discussion Paper Series, United Nations Development Programme, New Delhi.

Testing the level of math in children, the Gram Panchayat Way.

An entire academic year has just gone by after the grand launch of Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA), the innovative support programme rolled out in June 2015 by Akshara Foundation, in collaboration with the Karnataka State Government.

During the course of the year, the programme was implemented in six districts of the Hyderabad Karnataka region namely, Gulbarga, Koppal, Bellary, Raichur, Bidar and Yadgir. Around 8,000 teachers, 682 Government Resource Persons and 718 Cluster Resource Persons have been trained on the methodology, so that 300,000 children in 7,515 schools could benefit from this programme.

In an attempt to understand exactly how much the programe has benefitted the students and how much they have been exposed to it, Akshara Foundation was a proud facilitator of a one of its kind math competition for the children this summer.

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This competition was organised and spearheaded by the Gram Panchayats themselves. (A gram panchayat is the cornerstone of a local self-government organisation in India of the panchayati raj system at the village or small town level and has a sarpanch as its elected head – source: Wikipedia) Many villages come under a single Gram Panchayat. And Akshara identified around 250 such gram panchayats, spread across the 6 districts of GKA.

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Out the 250 identified Gram Panchayats, the team managed to conduct competitions in 216 of them.

Covering concepts on the Number System, Arithmetic Operations, Geometry and Measurement, the question papers were set by Akshara Foundation .

A total of 18,085 children showed up over the course of six weeks to participate in these competitions. This mammoth project involved around 2,000 youth volunteers and 20,000 odd parents, taking the ANDOLANA (meaning a Movement) to a whole new level. Many of the parents were exposed to the impact of interactive-based learning and in turn, the importance of math, for the first time.

So how does something like this work? Easier said than done. Akshara Foundation set each question paper with painstaking care, to cover all the major listed concepts equally. They were then couriered to each Gram Panchayat in sealed envelopes.

The Gram panchayat members would then begin the competition by opening the sealed envelopes on the day of the competition, in front of everyone. All the participants were given a paper each, and had to solve all the questions within the given time. Our youth volunteers would then huddle in a room and and correct the papers themselves, once all the papers were collected from the children.

IMG_20160924_121847

Once done, the results were announced in a grand closing ceremony, where the child who bagged the 1st prize was awarded a cash prize of Rs. 1000/-, Rs. 600/- was awarded as the 2nd prize and Rs. 400/- as the 3rd prize.

All this (excluding the setting of the paper) took place over the course of a few hours, right in front of everyone. There were no hidden rules or blanks left to fill in by the unassuming audience.

IMG_20160924_121934

All this sounds like a picture perfect new method of assessing children, but how did the children actually fare?

Of the 18,085 children who were tested (4th standard, 5th standard and 6th standard), the overall performance of those in the 5th standard was found to be relatively better, with a marginal increase in the percentage of students in high grades when compared with the performance of those in the 4th and 6th standard.

Some stark figures that need to be spoken about: 72.3% of the children tested could perform 4-digit addition, but when it came to 4-digit subtraction and multiplication, only 55.6% and 30.9% of them could manage it.

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While 23.8% children could do 4-digit division, only 17.2% children could solve division problems conveyed through a practical scenario.

Overall, the children of Raichur and Yadagiri districts scored the highest (14% and 18% scored above 75% respectively). Bellary and Kalburgi districts exhibited the lowest performance scores (where only 9% and 7% of the children scored above 75% respectively).

IMG_20160924_122916

The children’s performance, good or bad, has definitely started many a conversation amongst all the stakeholders. We are happy that this initiative has motivated the community to take a keen interest in their children’s education.

And to ensure this dialogue opens up in all the areas of Ganitha Kalika Andolana, Akshara Foundation will help organise around 400 more Gram Panchayat competitions, similar to these 216 over the course of the academic year.

Links to images and press clips:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aksharadotorg/sets/72157668273677140

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aksharadotorg/sets/72157668273810880

Beautiful. Warm. Resourceful. My first visit to rural India.

No American visiting India for the first time really knows what to expect. The India that one visualises from the descriptions of travel websites, friends, and relatives is one of stark contrasts between clean and polluted, modernity and tradition, rich and poor.

So, before I came to India, I didn’t know what to expect. My name is Ajay and I am an Indian-American high school student on his first visit to India. On this trip, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to join the Akshara Foundation on visits to the villages of Mundargi and Kushtagi in north Karnataka.

The rides to the villages were long and bumpy on roads that varied in levels of maintenance. For much of the ride, I had my left hand firmly grasped around the ceiling handles of our SUV and my eyes glued to the window, seeing life in a rural area for the first time.

The countryside can be very beautiful. Agricultural fields cover the sandy landscape with green crops and bright yellow carpets of sunflowers. These fields seem to stretch forever, only briefly interrupted by the villages they sustain.
Sunflowers
The villages have their own beauty, with the vivid colours painted on the walls of homes and local shops. Buildings are constructed into small, but pleasant and reliable, structures from the materials readily available, such as wood and mud brick, showing the resourcefulness of these poor communities.

The members of these communities were warm and welcoming to us, opening their home to us in an instant. I’ve never been a big tea or coffee drinker – I’m fairly energetic on my own, without caffeine but by the end of the two days I was in rural Karnataka, I was converted.

Everywhere we went, either tea or coffee was generously offered (and how can you pass up South Indian coffee?). The beverages not only literally warmed my mouth (I think I actually burned my tongue on the first day – helpful tip: when drinking a hot liquid, don’t keep it in your mouth in hopes of it somehow cooling down), but also, metaphorically, my heart; despite their daily struggle for food and water, these villagers offered me tea/coffee and biscuits without hesitation.
Tea
However, these same villagers, the parents of the children we visited in local schools, did not seem to understand the full importance of their children’s education. During their house visits, Akshara conferences with the parents about the importance of education and convinces families of why they should be involved in their children’s education.
VIllage
When basic necessities are scarce, it is understandable that parents can find it difficult to prioritise homework over harvesting. But a good education is a necessity. Certainly not of the immediacy of food or clean water for basic survival, but education is a necessary investment we make today to ensure that these children do not have to worry about things, like food shortages, in the future.

In the United States, parents are, unfortunately, also often distanced from their children’s education. Some parents work too much to be able to find time to monitor their child’s learning. Others simply can’t be bothered. Either way, the effects on the child’s education are the same: the parents’ lack of involvement is an impediment.

While in both America and India, parental involvement is generally directly correlated to income level, the difference is that in America, the trade off is rarely – if ever – between survival and education. Americans, in general, have more than enough to survive.

The young students in Mundargi and Kushtagi dream of becoming teachers, doctors, engineers – not farmers or labourers that struggle to get by. This is why it is important not only for the students to have an education available to them in school, but also for the parents to support their children’s quest to build a better life for themselves and, eventually, the villages they come from.

And this is why Akshara’s work is so essential. By building relationships with the communities in which they work, Akshara is able to make meaningful change at the deepest, most fundamental, levels. They invest time and effort into providing an education to children today, and changing attitudes and mindsets to ensure the next generation will have an education tomorrow.

– Ajay Dayal

Dasara Camps at Kushtagi


The Kustagi team conducted twenty camps during the Dasara holidays with the help of 83 trained volunteers, reaching 1,052 children of 3rd to 8th standard at twenty villages. Excellent support was drawn from the community, schools, the officials of the Education department and the media. The team planted 324 plants during the six camps. The camps were conducted at zero cost, however, the community and the schools helped raise Rs.2, 34,710 in cash and kind.

Preparations from the camps:
The BEO, BRC and the nodal person for Akshara activities Mr.Sharnappa Nagoor and the BRP were informed about the camps requesting them to provide a room and the support from the school authority while conducting the camps.

Based on the experiences of summer camps, the team selected five volunteers from the field. Most of these volunteers have completed D.Ed, while some are pursuing graduation and some others studying at the Pre-University College.

Twenty villages were identified and finalized for the camps. Letters were sent to all the Head masters/mistress by the Block Resource Coordinator (BRC) to support the team while the camps were going on. The CRPs were made in charge for the camps and the donors were identified.

Training for the volunteers:
One day training for 83 volunteers in two batches was held on 7th and 8th of October-13 by the District and Taluka coordinators. A brief introduction about Akshara Foundation and the work done in the Kustagi block was given. To break the ice the volunteers were made to play memory games. Further information about ASER, tree game along with tips were given to the volunteers. They were also told in detail about the street play on the awareness of education. Competitions like pick and speak and construction of different themes out of Lego bricks was done to give the volunteers a fair idea about the same to be held during the habba.
   
Camps:
The volunteers and the cluster facilitators led the children in a PRABHATPERI shouting the slogans related to education in the entire village, which attracted the attention of the community people towards the camps. The Head master and SDMC shared the responsibility in arranging the inaugural function in the school premises. SDMC president, Gram Panchayat President/members, leaders of the village, the Cluster Resource person, the school Head master/mistress and invited guests were present at the inaugural function.


Special invitee for the inaugural function:
Katapur is a village which belongs to Hanumasagr, Kustagi block. The camp was conducted at HPS Katapuras as per the request made by the Head master and the community.  Mrs. Netravathi Patil, Police Sub Inspector for Hanumasagar was invited to inaugurate the camp. She addressed all the children and said to dream big. She also appealed to the parents to send their children to school regularly. She specifically emphasized on educating the girl child and abolishing the practice of child marriage. The PSI spent her time until the lunch break and observed the activities done in the camps. She was all praises for Akshara and thanked for taking up such an effort to make the children happy.

Activities for three days:

Activites like memory game, fun games, making the village map with the help of the volunteers, constructing the Lego models using the Lego kit, some outdoor games and rhymes and action songs were conducted which not only kept the kids in the classes but also engaged them creatively. Competitions like pick and speak, drawing, English and Math quiz, musical chair and language game brought healthy competition between each group.

The children practiced street play, drama and a variety of cultural activities to entertain their parents and the community in the evening. Special activities like making flower bouquets, rangoli competition for children & the women, the dance and drama by the youth, planting the trees were the main attraction during the camps.

Feed back by the children:
Savitha Hiremath from 7th standard says, “I am the eldest daughter at home and have to always help my mother at home as well as in the field. I convinced my parents and attended the camp. I was elated to be a part of this camp, it was a different world for me which I had never dreamt of. These three days of the camp has gifted me a new life. I will study well and make sure to be useful to the society”.
“I watch the quiz competition on the TV. But I literally faced it in the camp. I liked the quiz competition”. Says, Shivkumar Gadad from 6th standard.
“All this while I was just studying without any goal, but the Doctor (invited resource person) made me dream and told me how to reach the goal” expressed Akshatha Jigeri from 8th standard.
ASER Results:
Conducting ASER test to all the children who participated in the camps was the major  task given to the Akshara team. The test was conducted using the ASER tool which includes Reading ,basic Math and English. Of 1,052 students, 1,001 attended for the ASER test.

The results showed that, 18% of the children are able to read the sentences and 42% of the children can read the story. 26% of the children could do the subtraction and 14% could do division while 16% of the children are unable to identify, 1-9 numbers yet. 24% of the children could read capital letters in English and 36% of them could read the small letters. 26% children could read simple words.


Community gathering:
 Community involvement could be seen almost every day during the camps. On day 1, the community was invited for the inaugural function, on the second day the community gathered after 7 PM to watch their children perform at the cultural programme and to listen to the message by the guests. Similarly, all were present on last day of the camp for the valedictory function.

A huge chunk of people gathered for the cultural program. It was a good platform to address the community. Dist coordinator, Taluka coordinator, the CRPs, HMs, SDMC President and the Gram Panchayat President /members spoke about the significance of education and requested the parents to send their children regularly to the schools. The children staged a drama on Child marriage, Drop out school children in order to spread the awareness. It was an effective message for the parents and the community by their children.      
                                                                         
Excellent participation of schools and communities:
The camps conducted at Shiragumpi, Ganganal, Nerebenchi, Kadekoppa, Hulsgara, K.Boduru were memorable ones. The participation of the youth, community, the parents, the Head master, the CRPs and the school teachers was highly commendable. The camps seemed like a festival in their villages. The SDMC and Gram Panchayat, took a vow to regularly send their children to schools and  help them to dream high. Many parents expressed that, they will strive hard to fulfill the dreams of their children. 324 plants were distributed and planted during the camps in these schools.
Community feedback:
“Camps like this really helps improve the overall development of the children, such camps should often be held, and we will support and carry on the camps in our village”.                Says,  Mr.Hanmanthpppa Kodagali the SDMC President.

Mr.Sangappa Gorebal the retired teacher of Bodur expressed that many people gather for the political issues and village festivals. But for the first time in his life, he has seen people gathering for the purpose of education. He had seen the camps in urban places but had not witnessed such an innovative camp which strived towards community awareness. He thanked and applauded Akshara Foundation for the initiation. He  was one of the donors for the camp.
Mr. Neelappa Chavan the President of Gram Panchayat of Kyadiguppa opined that, “ It is a good plat form to bring out children’s talent. We the committee will add this plan in our agenda and conduct the camp with help of the school teachers and volunteers”.

Feedback from the CRPs and School Head Masters:
Head Master Mr. Prabhakar Vijapur from Bodur said, “ Akshara Foundation has done some wonderful work for the Department. Whenever we call the parents they never turn up but through this camp almost all the people turned up. It is a good effort to spread the message of importance of education. The competitions like, quiz, language game, tree game and memory game will be continued to be conducted in my school, Thanks to Akshara”.
A Head master from Gangnal says,“We have seen the children attending camps in cities and town but this time many of our village children are the beneficiaries. Thanks to the volunteers and Akshara for the effort”.  
Mr.Nataraj the CRP of Bodur cluster said that, he has seen many organizations working in his service but never seen such activities and the concern towards the children and the community. Akshara’s systematic approach towards with education is appreciable.

Feedback from the volunteers:

  • Balanagowda Patil from Gangnal says,” I attended the volunteers training in Kustagi block just to kill the time. The talent of the children seen on and off the stage has made me speechless. The concern, selfless effort of Akshara Foundation is praise worthy. I have felt the joy of giving my time and gained a lot for my life”.
  • Mr.Kumar G from Amaravathi, says,“ I had heard of such camps happening in the towns and cities. But Akshara brought this to our village and I am proud to be a part and lead the  camp. It is one of the successful programme for the children and the community”.
  • Mr.Nirupadi from Kalamalli village views, “The camps organized by Akshara Foundation  made the children happy  and also brought about awareness among the people of the village. The drama presented by the children was an effective message to the parents”.  
  • I have come to know the learning levels of the children of my village through ASER test. I have learnt the names of many trees through the Tree game. I drew the map of my village. Lego was a wonderful kit for the children. I learnt how to conduct the camps in my village”. Says, Yamanoorappa Bandihal from Nidasheshi village. 

Experience shared by the Cluster facilitators:
“It was a wonderful experience to organize the camps, but with the help of the community I learnt to organize function, gained the confidence of the people and faced the media” Says Mr.Sangappa.
Mr.Manjunath gladly says: “The experience of the summer camp gave me a lot of confidence. Both the camps have given me a high satisfaction. My hard work can be seen in the village. Everyone in the village recognizes me”.
Ms.Shailaja says, “I can deal and organize any program related to education in the community. I have gained a lot of confidence by this camp”.
“Initially, I was not confident about myself, I spent sleepless nights but now, I feel that, everything is possible if there is a will” explains newly joined CF Mr.Doddappa.
Mr.Shivappa adds, “I was suffering from inferiority complex but through these camps all my doubts have vanished”.
Mrs.Akkamahadevi asserts: “These two camps have added to my confidence level when to summer camps”.
Mr.Sharanappa shares, “Everything is possible if we go with the good will”.
Mr.Doddangowda says,”I have learnt how to communicate and organize the events with full confidence.
Once again, I feel proud to say that, I am a block facilitator of Kustagi block for Akshara Foundation. The camps have thrown the light on the block and many officers, the teachers and the people recognize me. I have put in my best efforts at the camps” opines, Mr.Umesh Meli the ‘Taluka Facilitator’.

Conclusion:
Akshara Foundation team in Kustagi, with many experiences has been able to successfully conduct twenty ‘Educational camps. Through these camps, we have brought a smile on 1,052 children. The village map, Tree game, ASER, street play, Drawing and Quiz competitions, Lego, Outdoor and Indoor games, Action songs and many other activities have retained in the young minds of the children. The cultural activities performed by the children and the youth, Rangoli competitions for the women in the village were interesting to note. All these showed the participation of people. Approach in the community, the support of the volunteers, school HM, CRPs, people of the community has doubled the confidence of all the CFs.